Over the past few years as natural products have become increasingly popular, the field of natural herbal remedies has flourished. Today botanical products from various continents and cultures are sold in health food stores, drug stores and supermarkets, in catalogs and via the internet, to an eager, receptive public seeking safe, effective alternatives to drugs. One up-and-coming botanical, the fruit of Morinda citrifolia , whose Polynesian name is noni, is currently the subject of much science, myth, and marketing hype.
This overview deals primarily with the properties and benefits of noni fruit, with only brief information about other parts of the plant and their uses. This report describes what is currently known about noni fruit, and dispels certain misconceptions about the fruit and its uses.
Noni, (Morinda citrifolia) and its Dispersal
Indigenous to Southeast asia, noni (Morinda citrifolia) was domesticated and cultivated by Polynesians, first in Tahiti and the Marquesas, and eventually in the farthest outpost of their culture, Hawaii. Today noni ranges from Tahiti to India, and grows in the Caribbean, South America and the West Indies. Its broad dispersal speaks of its value to traditional cultures. The name “noni” is Polynesian. Some marketers erroneously claim that Polynesian noni is a different species from Indian Morinda citrifolia, or Indian Mulberry. This is wholly untrue. From one culture to another the plant is the same.
Morinda Citrifolia, the Plant
Morinda citrifolia is a small tree which grows up to ten metres in height, with an irregular, open crown and shiny, dark green leaves. The tree possesses a light brown to light gray bark, and light-colored wood. Morinda citrifolia flowers several times annually, producing clusters of small, five-petaled blossoms with finely haired centers. The flowers give off a sweet fragrance. Morinda citrifolia fruits several times annually, producing oblong fruits with circular scars, which are green when unripe and yellowish-white when fully ripe. The fruits have a soft, watery flesh, and a cheesy aroma which becomes increasingly pronounced and pungent during the ripening process.
Noni Fruit for Food and Dye
Though the fruit of the noni tree has a distinctive and not altogether pleasant aroma, noni fruit was traditionally eaten by native cultures in Samoa, Fiji, Burma and Australia. In Hawaii and the Marquesas noni was a famine food and was also fed to livestock. More commonly the root and bark of the noni tree were sources of fabric dyes, a use for which noni remained popular in Polynesia, Asia and Europe until the 1950’s. Depending on the fixatives with which it was combined, noni dye was used to produce yellow, red and purple colors. From Italy to India, noni dye colored carpets, sweaters and turbans.
Noni in Traditional Medicine
In traditional plant-based medicine, the fruit, flower, leaves, bark and root of morinda citrifolia have all been employed for diverse medicinal purposes. In Polynesia, noni leaves have a long history of topical use in poultices and mixed with oil, for the treatment of rheumatic pain, inflammation, neuralgia, ulcers, gout, cough and cold, boils and ringworm. The fruit too was prepared for topical use, sometimes juiced and mixed with salt or sliced and applied to boils. In Hawaii, noni fruit was crushed and mixed with other plants including awapuhi (Zingiber zerumbet) and awa (Piper methysticum), and applied to bruises, sprains and swollen limbs. The leaves of the tree were mashed with other plants and applied to deep wounds.
In traditional medicine, noni fruit was used relatively little compared with other parts of the plant. But it was used. In Hawaii, a digestive was made combining crushed noni fruit with cane juice. The fruit was also part of formulas for cleansing, which also included taro, cane juice and other plants. By the 1930’s noni fruit was used more widely for internal purposes, including intestinal worms, weakness and respiratory disorders. Since that time the juice of the ripe fruit has become increasingly popular as a folk remedy purported to stabilize blood sugar in cases of adult diabetes.
Despite comparatively less traditional use of noni fruit relative to other parts of the plant, it is the fruit itself in a variety of forms that is gaining popularity in today’s herbal market. Either dried and crushed, juiced and bottled, or freeze-dried, noni fruit is being touted as a veritable cure-all, useful in mitigating diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, headaches, arthritis, and a host of degenerative diseases. Multi level marketers have had a field day with noni, and this has both stimulated market demand, and made a chaos of what is actually known about the fruit. Today the World Wide Web is chock full of sites which make false, misleading and exaggerated claims for noni, including claims that noni fruit has been used internally as a cure-all for thousands of years. While the fruit is in fact beneficial to health, many claims currently being made for noni are unsubstantiated and baseless.
The Constituents of Noni Fruit
The chemistry of noni has been investigated extensively by various scientific groups. A plethora of phytochemical constituents have been identified in the leaves, bark, stem, flowers and fruits of the plant. Noni fruit specifically is a rich source of phytochemical constituents which demonstrate bioactivity. The following list summarizes those constituents which have been identified in ripe noni fruit.
Fat, Protein, Carbohydrate,Glucose, Fructose, Galactose, Arabinose, Rhamnose, Ascorbic acid, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Beta-carotene, Potassium, Sodium, Magnesium, Iron, Calcium, Phosphorous.
Acids: Acetic, 2-methyl propanoic, Butanoic, 2-methylbutanoic, Hexanoic, 3-methyliopropanoic, Benzoic, Glucuronic, Caproic, Caprylic, Heptanoic, Okadaic, Octanoic, Hexanadioic, Nonanoic, Decanoic, Undecanoic, Lauric, Myristic, Palmitic, Linoleic, Elaidic, Oleic, (Z,Z,Z)-8,11,14-eicosatrienoic
Alcohols: 1-Butanol, 3-Methyl-3-buten-1-ol, 3-Methyl-2-buten-1-ol, 1-Hexanol, Benzyl alcohol, Eugenol, (Z,Z)-2-5-Undecadien-1-ol
Esters: Methyl hexanoate, Methyl 3-methylthio-propanoate, Ethyl hexanoate, Methyl octanoate, Ethyl octanoate, Methyl decanoate, Ethyl decanoate, Methyl palmitate, Ethyl palmitate, Methyl elaidate, Methyl oleate
Ketones: 3-Hydroxy-2-butanone, 2-Heptanone
Lactones: (E)-6-Dodecano-y – lactone, (Z)-6-Dodeceno-y – lactone
Miscellaneous compounds: Hexanamide, Limonene, (Ethylthiomethyl) benzene, Scopoletin, Vomifoliol, Aucubin, Asperuloside
All of the above volatile components are readily vaporizable at a relatively low temperature. Because this is so, any process involving exposure of the open, ripe fruit to either heat or air (such as in drying the fruit or pasteurizing its juice) will result in a loss of many of these constituents.
Anthraquinones: Noni fruit contains a concentration of anthraquinones, including one novel anthraquinone, damnacanthal.
Noni ppt: Ripe noni fruit yields a unique polysaccharide-rich substance known as noni-ppt.
Xeronine- elusive constituent of noni: In 1985, researcher Ralph Heinicke of the University Of Hawaii declared the existence in noni of a novel substance he dubbed Xeronine. According to Heinicke, xeronine is a miracle ingredient responsible for the purported cure-all properties of noni. Also according to Heinicke, xeronine is almost impossible to detect. While much marketing hay has been made of Heinicke’s findings by one multi-level marketing group which sells diluted noni juice of Tahitian origin, his work has yet to be corroborated. In a 1999 review of noni in Economic Botany, the authors dismissed Heinicke’s claims as suspect. No independent laboratory has identified or quantified xeronine in any noni product.
Activity of Ripe Noni Fruit and its Constituents
According to bioscientific investigations of noni fruit conducted over the past fifty years, ripe noni fruit, extracts of ripe noni fruit, and constituents found in ripe noni fruit demonstrate a plethora of biological activities. The following is a partial list of the phytochemical constituents in ripe noni fruit, and some of their known biological activities. Due to the great amount of information that is known about many of these constituents, it is not practical to summarize their activities in full.
1-Hexanol - antiseptic
Acetic acid – bactericide, fungicide
Asperuloside – antiinflammatory, laxative
Aucubin – antioxidant, bactericide, laxative
Benzoic acid – antiseptic, bactericide, fungicide
Benzyl alcohol – anesthetic, antiseptic
Caprylic acid – candidacide, fungicide Damnacanthal - cathartic
Eugenol – analgesic, anesthetic, antiinflammatory, antiseptic, cancer-preventive
Glucuronic acid - detoxicant
Limonene – anticancer, antitumor, hypercholesterolemic
Linoleic acid – antiarteriosclerotic, cancer-preventive, hepatoprotective
Myristic acid – cancer-preventive
Noni-ppt – antitumor, immunomodulatory
Oleic acid – cancer-preventive
Palmitic acid - antifibrinolytic
Scopoletin – analgesic, antiedemic, antiinflammatory
Cleansing – Ripe noni fruit contains a concentration of anthraquinones including one called damnacanthal, which possess purgative activity. This accounts for the “cleansing” effect described by many users. In cases of sluggish digestion and slow moving bowels, noni can exert a stimulating and thereby beneficial effect, helping to increase peristalsis and cleanse the colon.
Antiinflammatory activity – Anecdotal accounts of antiinflammatory effects resulting from noni fruit consumption are too numerous to dismiss. The antiinflammatory effects of asperuloside, eugenol and scopoletin present in ripe noni fruit would support such a claim. Other agents may possess additional antiinflammatory activity.
Immunomodulatory and Antitumor Activity - Hirazumi and Furusawa have described the activity of a polysaccharide-rich substance from the fruit juice of noni, noni-ppt. In studies, noni-ppt demonstrated immunomodulatory and antitumor activity. The authors suggested that noni-ppt may be a valuable supplementary agent in cancer treatment. Okadaic acid in noni fruit has been determined by Asahina et al to increase the synthesis of tumor necrosis factor.
Brief Comments on Noni Studies
Studies conducted on noni fruit demonstrate antimicrobial activity, and inhibition of both the Candida albicans virus, and Cryptococcus, a cause of fungal pneumonia. Sedative and analgesic effects have also been noted. Noni fruit appears to stimulate the production of T-cells, macrophages and thymocytes, thereby enhancing immune function. And in animal studies, noni fruit extended the lives of mice with cancer. However, it is important to point out that at this time there is no reason to believe that noni fruit contributes in any way to the mitigation of diabetes, a disease for which it is increasingly widely employed. Nor should the anti-cancer activity of various noni constituents lead people to believe that the fruit or its extracts constitute a successful treatment for cancer.
Which Form of Noni Retains Constituents
One of the primary challenges in the field of botanical medicines is to effectively translate a beneficial traditional folk remedy into a beneficial shelf stable product. In Polynesia, ripe noni fruit is put into a container, where it quickly decomposes and ferments. The pungent amber juice which remains at the top of the fermented fruit is consumed daily as a prophylactic, to enhance overall vitality and well being. Most people cannot obtain fresh fermented ripe noni juice. So how can noni be translated effectively into shelf-stable dietary supplements that work far away from the islands?
The five enemies of all natural products are heat, light, air, moisture and time. Any process of noni preparation must minimize these factors, especially considering that the volatile constituents are unstable and are easily reduced or destroyed. While drying noni fruit yields a material that can be powdered and put into dietary supplements, this process subjects the fruit to all five destructive factors. Bottled noni juices undergo pasteurization to eliminate the problem of microbial contamination. During pasteurization, volatile constituents are inevitably reduced. At present the processing method most likely to yield a beneficial noni fruit product is lyophilization (freeze-drying). Lyophilization is widely employed in the pharmaceutical industry to stabilize drugs and extend the lifetime of their potency. The lyophilization process is a stabilizing procedure in which a substance is first frozen and then the quantity of the solvent (usually water) is reduced, initially by sublimation (the primary drying process) and then by desorption (the secondary drying process) to levels that will no longer support biological activity or chemical reactions. This process avoids the five destructive factors, producing a stable material which retains a greater concentration of active, volatile constituents.
Noni’s Bright Future
Considering the positive discoveries made with noni fruit thus far, there is excellent reason to anticipate that further studies will prove the fruit and its preparations beneficial to health in numerous ways. Noni is a valuable medicinal plant. And it is likely to become an increasingly sought-after dietary supplement. Yet we have a great deal more to learn about what the plant contains and how it works. Further phytochemical investigations into noni will likely lead to the discovery of other compounds. Additional biological activity studies will provide better information about how these agents work in living organisms. At some point human clinical studies will shed additional light on the specific activities of noni in the body.
Noni, Morinda citrifolia, is a highly regarded folk remedy which appears to be genuinely beneficial to health in numerous ways. Stripped of hype and mumbo-jumbo, and approached with intelligence and good science, noni may prove to be one of the more diversely valuable agents in nature’s medicine chest, and an enduring dietary supplement which serves the health needs of many.
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Anti-Aging Secrets of Noni
The Dr. Oz Show
, with Dr. Mehmet Oz
Many people caught The Medicine Hunter on The Dr. Oz Show. The segment included a special biography feature and a discussion about Noni fruit, so we have received numerous requests to recommend specific Noni products. We want you to know that Medicine Hunter, Inc. does not produce a Noni product. We like the following products, and they are certified organic - and YES, that matters:
Organic Noni 100% Island Style, by Tahiti Trader - 32 oz bottle
Noni Certified Organic Superfruit Antioxidant Juice, by NOW Foods - 32 oz bottle
As it turns out, the segment has not been posted on The Dr. Oz Show website, so by all means feel free to let the good folks at Oz know you’d like to see that happen, via The Dr. Oz Contact Form. Just tell them you'd love to see the segment called Anti-Aging Secrets of Noni on the Dr. Oz website. It was a good segment.